14 January 2011

Sempé and I: two buddies on tour of duty

"Though a late recruit to professional cartooing, Jean-Jaques Sempé (b. 1932) was an avid doodler from age of nineteen. Entrance to exams were not his forte as a young man, so plans of nine-to-five work were left behind and Sempé set out on the road instead...."

Qantas faulty Rolls-Royce engines delayed my departure for 24hrs and I did not take off on my tour of duty but until November 8th, 2010. Thus my farewell Sunday breakfast in Melbourne continued into other meal types such as brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, drinks across South Yarra. We are now well ingrained into 2011 (such a bizarre number) and I find hard to recall the day I took off from Down Under (El Culo del Mundo) when I embarked on tour of duty in Europa! Deep in me I was craving for some culture and stuff that would stimulate my brain and senses, I was looking to reconnect with history, culture and architecture but above all, to reconnect with my own past, returning to a place which I love, which I lived and experienced from my early 20s until turning 30, a place I have had been missing.

I thus embarked on a trip in the good spirit of the well travelled architects such as Inigo Jones, Le Corbusier or Luis Barragan. Me - like them - I was in search of L'Espirit Nouveau. Interrogating people, their buildings and places. Their sense of place, home and identity. Explored buildings in their context and surroundings, traces of innovation in their historical account. The artifacts and objects they contain, who they shelter, the smells, laughs and sounds these buildings, towns and places host.

Over the last two months I spent time and witnessed timeless beauty of places such as Rome (la cittá eterna), Venice, Florence, Milan in Italy; Delft, Amsterdam, Dan Haag and Rotterdam in the Netherlands; Antwerp; Prague, Karlstejn and Cesky Krumlov in Ceska Republika; and Lugano, Basel, Urnaesch, Appenzell, Lucern and Zurich in la Confederazione Elvetica.

I wondered along corridors, rooms and galleries of the most exquisite museums such as Palazzo Pitti della familia Medici, the Uffizzi Gallery, Firenze Academia de Belle Arti, Casa Buonarroti (Michel Angelo's former house), Pinacoteca di Brera, Fundazione Querinin, Fondation Beyeler, Mauritshuis Den Haag, Van Gogh Museum, Boigmas-Van Beuningen, Netherlands Photomuseum, Kunsthal Rotterdam, Karlstejn Castle Museum, Rijksmuseum, Vitra Design Museum, Helmhaus, Khunsthaus Zurich, Musei Vaticani e Capella Sistina amongst other jewels.

In a more contemporary sense I re-visited or experienced for first time the work of those fellow architects which I have always admired such as Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava, Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel, Herzog & DeMeuron, Richard Meier, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry.... but also discovered other folks such as Annette Gigon & Mike Guyer and Marianne Burkhalter & Christian Sumi [thank you Carla] not to mention getting to see sketchbooks and blueprints by two time-gone but well-known Swiss rationalist architects, Le Corbusier and Karl Moser.

I also came across really cool buildings by folks such as Alvaro Siza, Nicholas Grimshaw, Carlo Scarpa, Kisho Kurokawa, Tadao Ando and Jean Prouvé. In Holland I was introduced to a number of well established and emerging practices by my Dutch-Canadian friend and colleague John Heintz. My immersion into Dutch contemporary work took place during my visiting position at TU Delft, School of Architecture and included practices such as Rem Koolhas, Jo Coenen, Mecanoo, Tony Fretton, MVRDV, Claus en Kaan, Neutelings Riedijik and De Nijil [La Biennale di Archittetura di Venezia 2010 takes a chapter in itself].

Yet, you might ask, "so what all these has to do with Sempé?" Well, it is very simple, after I left home back early November I found that my usual blank/white sketchbook was not a "tabula rasa" it had little drawings all over by the French cartoonist Jean-Jaques Sempé. I did my own duddles, wirttings and sketches on top and at the back of Sempés' prints and it is now, just now, that I realise what a great travel companion he was. Thanks buddy - until next one!

A revoir!
[Qantas QF10 A380 to Singapore. Overnight 11/12 Jan.]

Guillermo Aranda-Mena © 2011


  1. Marvelous! All I can say so far until I read it over and over and look at your wonderful drawings and sketches again! Bon Vogage Le petit Nicolás! Your drawings are awaiting you at "El Castillo"


  2. Anonymous20.1.11

    Hi, seeing the sketches you did was really nice it was great to see how creative and smart you can get. Really think of the box! Sweet! Fiz